Nothing can prepare a family for the loss of a loved one at sea. Unfortunately, numerous families experience that unexpected loss every year. Working on the water is dangerous, but most deaths remain avoidable. Maritime employers have a duty to provide seamen a safe place to work. That means vessels should be seaworthy, the captain and crew should be competent, the equipment should be well maintained, and proper safety equipment should be used.
If your loved one was the victim of an incident at sea that resulted in death, you are undoubtedly concerned about paying the bills, covering funeral expenses, and keeping your family afloat in the future. Fortunately, you may be entitled to compensation for negligence to help with those costs.
Maritime wrongful death law is complex and requires specialized knowledge. Multiple statutes and maritime law may be relevant to your case. As such, it is crucial to contact an experienced maritime attorney as soon as possible to help you investigate, evaluate, and enforce your rights.
The Jones Act gives injured mariners the right to sue their employers for negligence-related injuries on the job. However, the statute also entitles certain surviving family members to recover damages when a commercial mariner family member dies at sea due to negligence.
Not everyone who dies on a vessel in navigation generates a wrongful death cause of action under the Jones Act. The mariner decedent must have qualified as a seaman, generally meaning that the individual contributed to the mission of a vessel for a sufficient amount of time. And while third-party people and companies can be liable for their negligence under general maritime law, only a maritime employer can be sued by a seaman's surviving family under the Jones Act. A seasoned admiralty lawyer can help make these determinations.
While the Jones Act applies to the wrongful death of a seaman regardless of the vessel’s distance from shore, it can be trickier to determine what law applies to the death of a passenger or recreational boater. General maritime law may apply in some waters, with possible supplementation by state wrongful death statutes. Just as tricky and fact dependent is determining which surviving loved ones are entitled to remedies.
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) applies to the passing of mariners further offshore. Unfortunately, DOHSA remedies are usually less comprehensive than other wrongful death laws. According to the statute, spouses, children, and dependent relatives may be entitled to recovery. However, loss of companionship, emotional trauma, and predeath pain and suffering damages are not compensable.
Where the Jones Act, maritime law, and DOHSA are designed to cover the negligent loss of life on the water, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act covers the death of a longshoreman or other amphibious worker. Longshoremen work over or near the water, often loading/unloading cargo or servicing ships. They are not seamen. The surviving family members of a deceased longshoreman may be entitled to compensation through administrative proceedings similar to workers’ compensation. However, if the negligence of a vessel owner is to blame for the wrongful death, additional remedies may be available against the vessel owner under LHWCA Section 905(b).
With extensive overlapping laws, maritime wrongful death cases are among the most complex cases in admiralty. Who can be a claimant and what remedies may be available depend on the location of the incident and the mariner’s function aboard the vessel. Maximize your chances of success in the claim by choosing a maritime attorney specializing in admiralty law. Time is of the essence. Call (253) 600-2531 for a free consultation with an experienced maritime lawyer. The firm serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.